From large-scale heating system conversions to full-blown recycling programs right down to the guest soaps, the race for green supremacy in the hotel sector is running the gamut. There is no doubt eco-conscious guests appreciate the effort, but going green may not necessarily translate into higher revenues in an obvious way. Some would argue social conscience can be at odds with the economics of going green. But those who have jumped into the deep end of the green pool, will say the gains are real. Sometimes it just takes a bit of time to see where they are.
Operators are proving time and again preserving the planet simply makes good business sense. Whether it’s purchasing renewable energy, reducing toxicity of cleaning products, building a rooftop garden, or recycling to the nth degree, the country’s biggest and brightest five-star properties and smallest of boutique hotels are learning bottom-line benefits are there for the taking.
Quebec-based Groupe Germain has gone full bore with a greening agenda for its newest Alt Hotels concept. There are three Alt properties in operation, with others in the works. The company’s alternative style, limited-service properties are a testament to the fact energy savings aren’t exclusive to high-end properties and resorts.
“Our idea was to build properties that made economic sense while at the same time, being more energy efficient,” says Hugo Germain, director of Development for Alt Hotels Canada. “By taking this approach, we believed we could pass on the economies to our guests.”
One unmistakable design spec at Alt hotels is geothermal heating, which has improved the company’s bottom line. “When we went through the economics after our first installation, it turned out to be a smart decision,” Germain says. “The payback, in fact, is within the first two to five years. Now all new hotels have geothermal energy incorporated into the design specifications.” While guest
perception is important, Germain believes it’s about delivering the best experience possible without increasing rates. “Beyond the obvious environmental benefits, that’s why we do it.”
At the Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour Hotel recycling and energy savings are top of the agenda for the property’s designated Green Team, from the kitchen to the conference and guest-rooms. “Even sheets, curtains and carpets [are] recycled,” says April-Dawn Best, the Green Team leader at the B.C.-based hotel. She notes recent conversion plans for energy-efficient lighting and HVAC upgrades are expected to save as much as 12 per cent of its current energy usage. “That alone will save us about $60,000 a year.”
Another noteworthy feature is the hotel’s beautiful green terrace garden installed over the parking lot, which Best says was a fluke. The hydrangeas, Japanese maples, mock orange bushes, magnolias and fresh herb plants have a natural cooling effect on the building. “It wasn’t something we planned, but it worked out well,” she says. “We were forward thinking without realizing it.”
The notion that green translates into lower cost and more profitability is something Tom Rand, senior advisor for the MaRS Discovery District and partner with The Planet Traveler Hostel in Toronto can also attest to. In fact, the unique hostel was his way of proving that greening can bring in profits. “We wanted to create a living laboratory to find out what technologies actually deliver on carbon reductions and deliver a profit,” he explains.
The target, says Rand, was a whopping 75-per-cent reduction in carbon. But getting there was “mind-bogglingly easy,” he says nonchalantly. “With a bit of capital and effort, we managed to get a significant reduction in carbon and be cash-flow positive from day one. The energy savings are greater than the loan payments, and our operational costs are $2,000 a month lower.”
The formula included solar-thermal hot water heating, solar photovoltaic systems, geothermal heating, heat recapture from waste hot water and LED lighting, which consumes less energy than the average four-slice toaster. “It’s all the standard stuff you can put into one building,” Rand says. “You just have to make the decision to unlock some capital and do it.”
Charles Leary, co-owner of the Trout Point Lodge in Yarmouth County, N.S., was in a similar frame of mind when he decided to build his environmentally friendly resort. “We wanted to show that eco-friendly means more than just changing the sheets every three days.”
The lodge, a log cabin construction, with a Relais and Chateaux Association designation, acts as a thermal sink to store heat during the winter. Soffit overhangs measuring approximately three-feet, help diffuse sunlight to reduce interior heat build-up, eliminating the need for air conditioning. All rooms have windows that open on two walls, while ceiling fans provide cross-ventilation. “We also place a lot of emphasis on standard practices such as energy-efficient lighting, grey-water systems to feed the gardens, and installing Energy Star-compliant appliances,” Leary says.
For Germain it all makes perfect sense. “Efficient buildings translate into better economic performance, whether you’re a three- or five-star property.”